The old smuggler hoisted the xahako and arced a hissing stream of wine from the goatskin into his open mouth without a wasted drop. Whether this was a display of skill or frugality was hard to say; he was said to have ample amounts of both qualities.

He wiped his beard with his hand and smiled. “You, Kakamutiko! Did you in your indolence forget the bread? God help us if we starve to death.”

“No, Uncle,” said the young man. He produced a squat loaf from his satchel and handed it across.

Outside the hut the wind moaned through the passes, giving the mountains a voice. The fire danced in the hearth, throwing queer shadows on the ancient stone walls.

“And the sausage, for the love of God?” said the old man. “Please tell me you did not neglect that.”

The boy produced a string of blood-red chorizo and a clasp-knife.

Arraioa!” exclaimed the smuggler. “You’d make a good wife!”


What Pegman Saw: Pays Basque


The Basque have lived in the Pyrenees for centuries, inhabiting villages in the forbidding mountains that straddle France and Spain. Their language is the most ancient in Europe and is unrelated to any other tongue.

A fiercely proud and strong people, they have long struggled for national independence, sometimes violently.

Their contributions to culture include the “Spanish” goatskin wine bag and the “French” beret.

Those Same Reasons


I swore as I walked in that this would be the last time.

I’d sworn this before, of course.

Last year.

But it had not been the last time, nor even close.

But last year we were still getting away with it.

Neither his wife nor my husband had any idea.

Well, maybe an idea, but nothing like now.

Besides, it was getting tiresome.

Another thing I had to do, like a second marriage.

All the same reasons I’d strayed in the first place reasserted themselves.

That restless feeling of vague dissatisfaction.

That unanswerable question is this all there is?


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With God All Things Are Possible


That shop? Well, now. I tell you a story.

Chinleyuego Aboagyem was born without eyes. A curse to his parents, though they loved him.

The young boy perfectly remembered everything he heard. By the age of five, he could speak as well as any adult in English, Akan, Dagaare, Twe, and Ewe. After a single hearing of a book of Scripture, he could repeat it letter-perfect. By the age of seven, he could recite both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety without a single error.

One day his cousin Ade brought Chinleyuego a small engine to play with. Without sight, the boy disassembled the motor, repaired it and put it back together in the space of an hour, his hands seeming to move of their own accord.

His reputation spread. Others brought their motorcycles, their cars. He repaired them all.

Miracles are everywhere if we will but look for them.


What Pegman Saw: Ghana

A Last Visit


I talked to him as he was secretly dying
and I did not listen
so there is little to say now
that it is all over.

His gaze, I thought,
skipped over my face
tapping my hands and the table,
a stone thrown indifferently
into the flash flood.

When he died, he importantly
was absent, a first, for he
had held us solid in his smoke
year after year.

And so, they wept, trying
to please him still, burying
a sad cardboard carton beneath a tree
with no marker but memory to name it.

Not For Sale


He was thin, the black coat so stiff it might have been snipped from tin. Wiry like her uncles, but with bright bird eyes. He stood staring at the clocks, always coming back to her favorite, the one with all the faces and figures.

“How long you say it took to carve?” the man asked Uncle Frank.

“We don’t keep track,” said Uncle Frank. “We finish when we finish.”

“Well, I like the craftsmanship. I’d like to buy it.”

“Not for sale, Mr. Ford.”

“How about a million dollars?”

Uncle Frank smiled. “What would I do with a million dollars?”


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Note: This photo was taken at the Bily Clock Museum in Spillville, Iowa. The museum building was the residence of Antonín Dvořák during the summer of 1893 where he composed his String Quartet in F (also known as the “American Quartet”) and his String Quintet in E-Flat.

Lau Lum


“Lau Lum,” Mrs. Gia greeted me. Long time. 

She smiled and set a dish of banh cuon on the counter, my favorite lunch in the old days.

I laughed.  “How did you know?”

“People don’t change much,” she said in her excellent English.

It felt like it was only yesterday when I’d come to say goodbye, but it had been six years since I left Hanoi for the Philippines. Mrs. Gia looked just as she had then, merry eyes twinkling beneath a shock of black hair.

I’d heard her story in bits and pieces from her daughter Mei. “Mom is Laotian,” she’d said, “but she came here after the war. She was one of the women who worked on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Every day the Americans would bomb hell out of it, and every night she and three thousand friends would rebuild it by hand.”


What Pegman Saw: Hanoi


American expat Pam Scott wrote a wonderful book on life in Hanoi, one of the world’s great cities. A different Mrs. Gia appears in that book, but the banh cuon (a dish of finely chopped pork, mushroom, and onion wrapped in a gossamer rice sheet and served with dipping sauce) is the same.

Circus Fire


Wednesday, July 5th 1944

The kids were out windows
shimmied down drainspouts
hurled down alleyways

since today was the day
the circus train rolled into town.

No music played
– war trains caused delays

but no war talk today, boys. No time
because look at that we’re late.
Late is unlucky and it’s all good news these days anyway.

The profession demands professionals
The circus parade always rolls
from railyard into town.

A real bully circus

with only a few of the town’s old hens
talking sideways about young circus men
who weren’t strewn limbless on the beaches
but instead juggled bright red pins
as they marched in clown suits
to bully circus music

Thursday July 6th 1944

The Flying Wallendas
had the crowd on the edge of their seats.

When the band played Stars and Stripes Forever.
circus people knew it meant danger, panic
looked around, and soon spotted the licks

of fire racing up the big top
canvas waxed with two tons of paraffin,
a rain of flaming teardrops

bombing the crowd, burning them alive
making them run ablaze through the sawdust
screaming horror, setting all alight
as the fire raced up the greased walls,
roaring as the gaily striped tent
collapsed on them, pressed them to coals

Photographers on their soft stateside duty
snapped clowns with firebuckets
as the big top cindered down in just eight minutes
the ashy dead a harbinger

of cities yet to burn



By the middle of our second year it was down to us and two other teams.

Five continents, sixty-odd cities and countless towns, villages, hamlets and burgs.

Every step another piece in the puzzle, every discovery a link in the chain.

The journey changed us. Who we thought we were.

It’s hard to explain.

When we’d set out, we had concrete ideas.

How each of us fit into the world.

How we fitted one another.

When we started it seemed simple but not easy.

Now it is the other way around.

We keep going because onward is the only direction.


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“Lieutenant Hanks? Sorry to disturb.”

Flédong was indeed sorry, for he knew  Hanks, like the rest of his garrison, was down with griping guts. The culprit was a cask of Royal Navy salt beef purchased from a salvage brig that had fished it up from the wreck of HMS Speedy. The men had been living on biscuit and fish since the Indians all vanished many months before, so they fell upon the meat with a fanatic zeal that soon betrayed them with cramp and fever.

But this was an emergency. A British captain with a company of soldiers and twoscore Indians had arrived under a flag of truce to discuss terms shortly after a cannonball was fired into into the fort’s wall.

Hanks looked ghastly as he stepped onto the ramparts. “But we are not at war, sir,” he said to the captain.

“Your information is outdated,” replied the officer. “And I cannot answer for what these Indians will do now that they are within your walls.”


What Pegman Saw: Mackinac Island

The Siege of Fort of Mackinac was one of the first engagements of the War of 1812. The British commander in Upper Canada, Major General Isaac Brock, learned of the outbreak of the war and sent a canoe to the commander of the British Army post at St. Joseph Island, Captain Charles Roberts, with orders to immediately capture Mackinac to secure the trade route of the upper peninsula.

Having learned that the Americans at Mackinac were unaware of the outbreak of war, Robert’s force dragged a 6-pounder cannon through the woods to a ridge above the fort and fired a single round before sending a message under a flag of truce to demand the surrender of the fort.

Fearing a massacre by the Natives, Mackinac commander Lieutenant Hanks capitulated without a fight.



It took Mama a while to notice, becuase that’s how Mama was. She mostly noticed how she felt about things, and was quick to tell you. The house is too cold. The stew is too salty.  It was always something else wrong, not her.  She paid attention to the world around like it was a movie she was watching.

I don’t think Jessie was trying to prove a point or anything.  After all, she was only five when she stopped talking and she hasn’t said a single word to anyone since. It’s been six years.

I wonder if something happened.


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